Friday, July 29, 2016

It's Starting to Suck to be Donald J. Trump

So now the 2016 presidential campaign begins in earnest, with the next big events--the debates--starting in September. Alexander Burns in the NY Times identifies the essence of the Democratic Party case, which is essentially the democratic case:

Democrats marked a decisive turn in their campaign against Donald J. Trump this week, moving to recast the 2016 race not as a conventional battle between left and right but as a national emergency that requires voters of all stripes to band together against a singularly menacing candidate.

Later: David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said Democrats had picked up on an unsettling theme in Mr. Trump’s campaign. He said the attacks this week on Mr. Trump as an autocrat had the potential to resonate outside the Democratic base.  “I really don’t think that’s too over the top,” Mr. Boaz said. “We have one candidate who’s not even pretending — he is promising to be a one-man ruler.”

Meanwhile, Trump's prominence and his boast about his businesses are bringing renewed attention to them, and not the good kind.  A Florida court just ordered Trump to pay $300,000 in legal fees--as well as unpaid bills-- to a paint store that Trump tried to stiff.  Trump hotel workers in North Carolina are organizing a union--Trump officially questioned the union vote and was slapped down by the National Labor Relations Board.  My guess is this is only the beginning.

And even better, Republican efforts to prevent citizens from voting, especially if they are poor and of color, are getting cancelled by the courts.  The latest is the Federal Appeals Court decision in North Carolina that strikes down its voter ID law.  Also a new decision striking down voter ID in Wisconsin. A similar decision was handed down in Texas last week, and a different sort of restriction was denied in Michigan.  Update: And Kansas!

Receiving a lot of attention today is an appearance at the DNC yesterday--of the father of a Muslim US soldier killed in battle, who brandished the US Constitution essentially in Trump's face.

Also, a few notable new pieces about the Clinton speech: the WPost's The Plum Line summarized the cross-party appeal noted in other pieces, while adding details about Trump's responses Friday, and calling him "a dangerous lunatic" and "dangerously insane."  Okay Greg, but what do you really think?

 New York has a terrific piece on the mothers and daughters connections uniquely expressed on Hillary's big night.  Xeni Jardin at the Guardian was moved, and wrote movingly about hearing a speech from the first woman candidate:"Hillary’s speech was like watching the moon landing. I don’t remember anyone ever telling me that a woman could never be president. But that’s how deeply sexism and “less-than” are woven into American culture. My culture...And suddenly last night, right there on our screens: we breathed new air."

Also at the Guardian, Jill Abramson, Lucia Graves and Richard Wolffe made pertinent points about Clinton's speech.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

We Are Not Afraid

Of Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech at the DNC, the New York Times: Mrs. Clinton radiated confidence, from her pungent delivery and easy laugh to the unusually expressive ways she shifted her tone and delighted in her own best lines. She smoothly acknowledged her own limitations and trust issues as a public figure and forcefully challenged Mr. Trump over his claims that he alone could fix America’s problems."

Here are some of the more widely quoted passages:

"America is once again at a moment of reckoning. Powerful forces are threatening to pull us apart. Bonds of trust and respect are fraying. And just as with our founders, there are no guarantees. It truly is up to us. We have to decide whether we all will work together so we all can rise together."

Of Trump: "He’s taken the Republican Party a long way … from “Morning in America” to “Midnight in America.”He wants us to fear the future and fear each other. Well, a great Democratic President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came up with the perfect rebuke to Trump more than eighty years ago, during a much more perilous time.“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”Now we are clear-eyed about what our country is up against. But we are not afraid."

Americans don’t say: “I alone can fix it.”We say: “We’ll fix it together.”

"It’s true … I sweat the details of policy — whether we’re talking about the exact level of lead in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan, the number of mental health facilities in Iowa, or the cost of your prescription drugs. Because it’s not just a detail if it’s your kid — if it’s your family. It’s a big deal. And it should be a big deal to your president."

On breaking the "glass ceiling" by becoming the first woman nominee of a major party"...because when any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone.  When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit."

Speaking of Trump's acceptance speech: “He spoke for 70-odd minutes — and I do mean odd.”

After noting all the foreign countries where Trump products are manufactured: "Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again — well, he could start by actually making things in America again."

"Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons."

"I can’t put it any better than Jackie Kennedy did after the Cuban Missile Crisis. She said that what worried President Kennedy during that very dangerous time was that a war might be started — not by big men with self-control and restraint, but by little men — the ones moved by fear and pride."

And my personal favorite:

"Now Donald Trump says, and this is a quote, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do.” No, Donald, you don’t."

Clinton's speech had such high points and touched a lot of bases--such as the Bernie base of the party, everyone in the Democratic coalition, with an appeal to Republicans and Independents.  It was one of her better efforts, in delivery and content, even if as a speech it had no discernible structure and seemed to leave a thought before it was completed.

It did however sum up the message of the convention.  Those who saw only this speech got the essential message, and for those who saw them all, she tied them together.  But just as Bill Clinton spoke for President Obama in 2012 in a way he could not for himself, President Obama returned the favor in 2016 to Hillary Clinton.

As for doing what it needed to do, Politico's board gave it a thumbs up. Here's the transcript and video.

Hillary and--hey, isn't that Kareem?
Jonathan Chiat agreed that the convention was a success, and added: Clinton showed that she is level-headed, respectful of others, intelligent, well-informed, and very tough. In an election where sane and competent could form the basis for a rousing endorsement, she displayed more than enough.

Clinton's speech continued the theme of optimism, and this was not lost on stalwarts of old Republican campaigns, among others. Conservative columnist David Brooks began by noting that Donald Trump has found an ingenious way to save the Democratic Party.  He did so in terms of patriotism, religious and middle-class values, and American self-rule.  Brooks concludes that by clearly being the party of optimism, the Democrats should win--unless, as Trump is betting, that under pressure of fear, America has changed completely.

Politico agreed, referring to earlier speakers this evening who might have been--or actually were--welcome at a prior RNC.

This is also pretty much the conclusion of Alex Altman at Time: Dissent aside, the Democrats staged a convention that was as carefully coordinated as the Republicans were haphazard. They lured A-list names, while Trump’s “showbiz” soiree subsisted on D-list celebs. And their sunny vision, some Republicans conceded, was a stark contrast to the gloom and doom Trump peddled...

The back end of Clinton’s speech was an extended argument that Americans still prefer a steady pro over a swaggering amateur to clean up those problems. “In the end, it comes down to what Donald Trump doesn’t get: that America is great, because America is good,” Clinton said. “He’s offering empty promises. And what are we offering? A bold agenda to improve the lives of people across our country.”

Was it poetry? No. But the history of presidential elections suggests optimism usually prevails. Clinton is betting that as strange as this one has been, the rule will hold once more in November."

Ed Kilgore at New York Magazine concluded:

  Any way you look at it, Hillary Clinton ended the convention the leader of a (largely) united party that has appropriated much of the old Reaganesque mood of optimism and patriotism Republicans long called their own, while avoiding a complacent agenda. She has probably earned as much of a public opinion "bounce" as Trump enjoyed immediately after his convention, and perhaps more, and has taken the fight to him in ways that could well provoke the kind of unforced errors at which he excels."

"We Don't Fear the Future"--more on President Obama's DNC Speech

Before Thursday's DNC speeches--mostly Hillary's--a few more commentaries on President Obama's speech.

At NBC:President Obama roused Democrats on Wednesday with a progressive call to action, but his speech was also a hit with a narrow group of conservatives who have spent the last eight years opposing his agenda: The #NeverTrump movement.

Washington Post's The Morning Plum had a similar view: If there was one single overarching goal in President Obama’s remarkable speech to the nation last night, it was this: To cast not just Donald Trump, but Trumpism writ large, as a unique and even existential threat to the American experiment itself.

This was a lofty philosophical project, and it was widely seen as such in the commentary that greeted the speech immediately after it concluded. But underneath it was a cold, hard, long-term calculation: The GOP’s nomination of Trump, some Democrats believe, has created a unique opportunity for the Democrats to lay claim to the mantle of sober, responsible, sane, and mature governing party in a manner that could transform our politics to an unforeseen degree in coming years. This morning, there are indications that some conservatives agree with this, too.

Vanity Fair: President Barack Obama delivered yesterday’s line of the night: “We don’t look to be ruled.” Many lines by many speakers were delivered, of course, but none quite measured up to that one. Commenters on both the left and the right picked up on it and, even when complaining about Obama, acknowledged its force.

Wired selected a different quote-- “We Don’t Fear the Future—We Shape It” and contrasted his speech with Trump's: The America that Obama depicted was the emotional, spiritual, and directional opposite. Where Trump described a national nightmare, President Obama articulated the American Dream. Where Trump’s words seared, Obama’s soared. Where Trump described the past as a blueprint, Obama urged the audience to embrace change.

Under the headline Obama Argues That Trump Isn’t American Enough to Be President Eric Levitz at New York wrote: Donald Trump launched his career in conservative politics by challenging Barack Obama’s claim to American identity. On Wednesday night in Philadelphia, Obama returned the favor.

The president did not ask to see the mogul’s birth certificate. Nor did he engage with the (disconcertingly plausible) theory that Trump’s candidacy is being aided by a hostile foreign government. Rather, Obama argued that the intolerant authoritarianism that Donald Trump embodies is alien to our nation's bedrock values."

John Cassidy at the New Yorker also hit on the Trump is un-American theme, and observed: Watching the President, you got the sense he had been waiting to deliver this speech for a long time. Yes, he was carrying out a political mission, but it was also personal. Trump hasn’t just insulted Obama personally: Trump’s entire candidacy represents an affront to everything that Obama stands for and got elected on—hope, inclusiveness, reason, and faith in a democratic political system (even if that system is frustratingly deadlocked).

Cassidy found his strongest evidence at the end of Obama's speech:

The President was now approaching his crescendo. These American values, he said, were why the country could “attract strivers and entrepreneurs from around the globe . . . why our military can look the way it does, every shade of humanity, forged into common service . . . why anyone who threatens our values, whether Fascists or Communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end.”

It took a moment for the crowd to grasp what Obama had done, lumping Trump in with Hitler, Stalin, and isis. As applause rang out, he pressed on, his voice rising. “That is America. That is America. Those bonds of affection, that common creed. We don’t fear the future; we shape it, we embrace it, as one people, stronger together than we are on our own. That’s what Hillary Clinton understands—this fighter, this stateswoman, this mother and grandmother, this public servant, this patriot. That’s the America she’s fighting for.”

Tina Nguyen at Vanity Fair highlighted this quote: “America is already great. America is already strong,” he offered. “And I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump.”

Quartz titled their piece on the speech simply:Barack Obama just reminded America why it will miss him

By the way....President Obama used this resonant language: "That is America: Those bonds of affection, that common creed."

"Bonds of affection" is an expression from a famous passage by Abraham Lincoln:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Amazing Grace

It was an evening of impressive speeches, Wednesday at the DNC.  Joe Biden wowed the crowd; at least a couple of commentators thought it was the best speech of the night.

 Independent businessman and former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg went at Trump with a scalpel.  He called Trump a demagogue and a con man.

  Tim Kaine zeroed in on Trump's refrain that substitutes for policy: "Believe me."  And he counted out  the ways no one should believe Trump.

And before them, Martin O'Malley and Jessie Jackson, Gabby Giffords and parents of gun violence victims.

But the evening ended with President Obama, whose speech brought his political career and his presidency full circle.  He was alive to every moment of it, in the convention hall.  He'll make other speeches for Hillary, statements as President, and one more State of the Union.  But this was the speech that took him from his first convention speech in 2004 that electrified the hall and started his quick march to the presidency, to the final days of that presidency.

Recently we've seen him saddened, angry, bearing up under emotion.  On Wednesday night he was brimming with energy as he hasn't seemingly in years.  A smile was behind his words.  He not only spoke of optimism.  He was optimism.

But of a particular kind--as the New York Times editorial board noted that in what it called his "beautiful and emotional" speech, he could look back on his long march--and say, in effect, this is what I've been telling you to expect.  From at least his speech in Grant Park on 2008 election night, he's said that change isn't easy and doesn't necessarily come fast.  And that it often requires compromise, and entails disappointments.  But it rewards steadfast effort.

It was a speech structured as a call for continuation, from Barack to Hillary.  But it was also a speech of vindication--not so much in details of accomplishments, but in political faith--and hope.

It's no accident that for the first time in a long time he repeated his most famous words "Yes, We Can."  And he wove it into another theme, of democracy versus the autocracy of Trump--it's yes, we can, he repeated, not yes I can, or even yes, she can.

And he returned to another signature--and book title--the audacity of hope.  By now, people must know what audacity really means: "Hope in the face of difficulty; hope in the face of uncertainty; the audacity of hope!"

The Times wrote: "His presence on the podium was also a valedictory for an exceptional man and president who will be remembered for eloquently defending the founding precepts of the country — even as he used those precepts to expand the mandate of inclusiveness and broaden the definition of what it means to be an American. From that standpoint, the Obama presidency has been transformative — perhaps even miraculous."

That was the heart of this speech--Obama's America, his American Dream.  That's especially what will make this speech live for a long time.

It’s hard to overstate the effect that Barack Obama can have on an audience, wrote Lucia Graves in the Guardian-- and when he took the stage of a packed Democratic national convention on Wednesday night, he entered not just to music but to the sound of his party’s collective swoon.With Obama on it, the stage had a newfound glamour. This wasn’t just another beige politician. This was America’s first and last love, it’s one-and-only preacher-in-chief.

Obama's speech was preceded by a powerful video which included his heartfelt singing of Amazing Grace in Charleston, which reportedly was joined by the chorus of conventioneers as the video was shown.

Here's a transcript and another video of the speech.

The Democratic Convention has been getting pretty high TV ratings, with bigger audiences than the RNC.  This night ended with Hillary Clinton on stage with President Obama.  Tomorrow it's her night.  Although I wouldn't be surprised to see Barack and Michelle one more time.

This Is Not Reality TV. This Is Reality

Even in this insane political year, here's a headline I'll bet you nevvver imagined you would read in the Washington Post: Trump invites Russia to meddle in the U.S. presidential race with Clinton’s emails.  Or in Time Magazine: Donald Trump Calls on Russia to Hack Hillary Clinton’s Emails   

The Republican candidate for President of the U.S., who is granted the courtesy of national security briefings during the campaign, suggested that Russia engage in cyber spying of a United States Secretary of State's email account, and make those emails public.

This has led to military and national security veterans saying his statement is shocking, irresponsible, even treasonous and evidence of criminal intent.  At worst, it is a felony.  At best it is disqualifying.

Historians could not think of a precedent for this statement.  One noted that if a sitting President had made it, it would be an impeachable offence, worse that Watergate.

It was only one of his mind-boggling statements in his press conference Wednesday, which also included barely veiled racist remarks about President Obama, insulting language to his questioners, and assertions both demonstrably false and so obscure that their sources couldn't be found.  And just to make sure he touched all the bases, the morning after the Dems nominated the first woman for President, he told a woman reporter to "be quiet." Here's the Post's annotated description.

Months ago I wrote that all Hillary had to do to beat Trump was to run as the candidate who is "not insane."  At the convention Wednesday, independent former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg added a line at the end of his speech: "Let's elect a sane competent person..."  It's come to that.

But today we got a taste of how profoundly dangerous Trump would be.  As Bloomberg also said: "This is not reality TV.  This is reality."

Also today, Wikileaks released voicemails stolen from the DNC.  As the Guardian reports, there is no political content in them.  They only compromise private citizens as well as politicians, and give out private phone numbers left as messages.  Some of the messages are from children.  This is at best the act of fanatics with no sense of boundaries.  We're seeing that a lot lately.

Meanwhile On Planet Earth

Meanwhile on planet Earth, the global temperature set another record in June, as they have every month this year, and in the midst of a searing heat dome clamped over much of the United States this week, and huge wild fires rage in southern California, USA Today reported this:

For the first time on record, every square inch of all 50 states is forecast to see above-average temperatures for the next three months, according to a forecast map from the federal government's Climate Prediction Center.

Now that might not actually be unprecedented--the records go back only to 1995--but it indicates the direction of the climate present and future.

Meanwhile, other aspects of the global ecology that might provide some margin for error as the climate crisis intensifies are also weakening.  The diversity of lifeforms is a major marker, for it supports the ecosystems that support, for example, us.  Such diversity has been declining for centuries, due to humanity's rapacious and careless spread and bad practices.  Now scientists believe that diversity has fallen below a safe level, endangering the future, especially in the most populated and built up areas of the planet.

You would think that a combined climate and ecological crisis would merit a lot of political attention, like at least a theme night at the party conventions.  But we keep finding and manufacturing other things with more emotional presence and lesser threat to occupy us.

The climate crisis has been referenced at the DNC and will be again, and clearly any hope the planet has rests with the election of Hillary Clinton.  But this continuing disconnect between size of the danger and priority of attention only adds dimension to the poetic insight that humans, Americans especially, cannot handle too much reality.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

This History Was Made Tonight

This evening, Hillary Clinton became the first woman in American history to be officially nominated by a major political party for President of the United States.  After the roll-call vote (which included Hillary's close girlhood friend announcing the Illinois vote, and a 102 year old woman announcing Arizona's votes for Hillary,)  Bernie Sanders moved to nominate her by acclamation.

Bill Clinton got high marks for his speech about Hillary as a person and change-maker.  Several commentators noted that it was a very different kind of speech from his usual fact-filled, policy-laden speech tracing history.  E.J. Dionne called it the most important of his life.  Video of the speech is here.

Here are selections of the day's highlights from the LA Times, plus their selection of celebrity appearances.

In related news, the New York Times reported a consensus among U.S. spy agencies that the DNC was hacked and emailed stolen by the Russian government.  There's evidence as well that Russians had a direct hand in releasing the emails, though Julian Assange of Wikileaks formally dumped the emails with the avowed purpose of defeating Hillary Clinton.

Asked about whether Russia is trying to influence the U.S. election, President Obama said it was possible, and that “on a regular basis, they try to influence elections in Europe." "What the motives were in terms of the leaks, all that, I can't say directly...what I do know is that Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin."

Towards the end of the convention evening, Meryl Streep put an emphatic historical cast on what happened there in Philadelphia, where the country started.  She talked about the "grit and grace" that Hillary Clinton shares with other women pathfinders.  She was followed by a short video that put it in further historical perspective, ending with John Lennon's voice: "Instant Karma."  Here are those seven minutes:

Trump's America

"America is a disastrous hellhole teeming with criminal non-citizens who steal jobs when they aren’t killing innocent young girls, but on 20 January 2017 it will transmogrify into a tranquil, terror and alien-free manufacturing dynamo, with assault rifles available to all."

Christian Lorentzen summarizing Trump's acceptance speech in the London Review of Books.

Never Nader

According to reports, a lot of the booing and the chanting coming from Bernites at the DNC Monday were coming from the California delegation.  It wouldn't surprise me if some of those involved are folks I pass in the aisles at Wildberries or the Arcata Co-op.

I've written here before about the history of Greens and Democrats after the year 2000 debacle, but a lot of Bernites were toddlers then.  However, that doesn't excuse destroying the planet so they can learn what Naderites feel like when they see what they've done.

These folks have a lot in common with the Tea Party rabid right, in that they can be counted on to eat their own if they seem insufficiently pure.  They were insufferably rude to Elizabeth Warren on Monday.

But when members of the California delegation booed Bernie Sanders for supporting Hillary and saying that it was her or Trump in November, not the Green Party candidate, he told them this:

"It is easy to boo, but it is harder to look your kids in the face if we are living under a Trump presidency."

Monday, July 25, 2016

Doing What Needed To Be Done

Edward Kilgore at New York thought the fever broke with Michelle Obama's speech.  So did the NY Daily News. Virginia Hefferman at the NYTimes thought it was Bernie Sanders speech.  Several observers thought that Sarah Silverman's improvised rebuke to the Bernie or Bust chanters ("you're being ridiculous") helped.  But observers who were at the DNC--as opposed as those watching TV or the Internet--believed Democrats became basically united behind the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

Many believed--as I do--that the speech of the night, the moment of the night, belonged to Michelle Obama.  Robin Abcarian of the LA Times began: With a graciousness that impressed critics and brought supporters to tears, Michelle Obama on Monday night gave a perfectly pitched convention speech that was a ringing endorsement of Hillary Clinton, a backhanded slap at Donald Trump, and a powerful reminder of the historic nature of her husband’s presidency.

David Smith in the Guardian: Here, at last, the profound, moving and devastating riposte to Donald Trump that many in America, and the world, had been waiting for. And the antidote to the non-politician came from another non-politician – a mother.

Michelle Obama, the first black first lady in American history, gave a 15-minute address to the Democratic national convention that drew cheers, left some delegates openly weeping and did more than any governor or congressman to unite and fire up the party for November’s presidential election.

Tina  Nguyen in Vanity Fair: As perhaps the last Democrat who could do no wrong in the eyes of the American people, Michelle Obama brought a divided audience to their feet in Philadelphia by urging the country to vote for Hillary Clinton, speaking not just as the First Lady, but as a mother of two daughters who could not let a certain “bully” become president.

 Rebecca Traister at New York began:

On the opening night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, it was not an elected official, but one of the most brilliant and inspiring first ladies in American history, Michelle Obama, who lit up the room, silenced the booing throngs, and opened up a can of elegant whoop-ass on everyone who has been behaving poorly, all without mentioning any offenders by name. It was not just one of the best and most ingenious speeches ever given by a political spouse at a party convention, it was one of the finest speeches I have heard at a convention, period.

It was a remarkable speech, remarkably delivered.  It was all of a piece, making the case for Hillary, the case against Trump, from her unique perspective--and making it efficiently with passion and enormous grace.

The lines that will live, delivered with evident emotion and sincerity, are these:

“This is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves and I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent, black young women — playing with their dogs on the White House lawn...and because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters — and all our sons and daughters — now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”

Here's a transcript .  Video above--it's about fifteen minutes long.  The convention is just starting, but this may turn out to be the most important speech of this campaign year.  So far it's clearly the best.

Naderites to the Tenth

In an astonishing year (in a loathesome way), it didn't seem possible to get worse in a new direction, but it seems that it is today.

As evidence grows that Russian state officials are attempting to manipulate the American election, the Bernie delegates at the DNC are trying very hard to make it easy for them.  They are themselves so easily manipulated by the email dump, which would seem to be exactly what the Russians had in mind.

Not only that, but some on the left are actually defending the Russians.

This is Naderism to the tenth power, the self-righteous, self-satisfied, emotionally naive, intellectually confused, and very white "educated" refusal to deal with reality.  This country has never been in more danger, and the election of Trump would sink it fast.  Yet they are happily enabling this because they didn't get everything they wanted, and some people were mean to them.

Meanwhile, the FBI is finally looking into the DNC virtual break-in, and all signs continue to point to Russia.  A Russian motive is pretty simple to describe: if the U.S. withdraws from Europe, Russia can absorb the Ukraine and other territory.  Brexit has already thrown the European Union into disarray.  The chance of nuclear war in Europe would ramp up considerably.

There is growing evidence that the planet as we know it will not survive a nuclear war.  And it wouldn't take a massive exchange between the U.S. and Russia to finish off the human race.

Those are the stakes, measured against purist petulance in Philadelphia.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Exposing the Siberian Candidate

Journalists have begun to explore connections between Putin (and pals) and Trump (and especially his campaign manager.)  But they've come front and center Sunday with Clinton campaign charges that the recent Wikileaks dump of DNC internal emails was orchestrated by the Russian government specifically as the Democratic National Convention is about to begin, in order to further the Trump candidacy.

Stories on these charges in the New York Times and Washington Post both suggested that the security consultants they asked did agree that the theft of these emails was likely the work of Russian spy agencies and the Times added that using them to influence an election would be a well known Russian tactic.

Trump's recent statements on NATO, the RNC platform change on Ukraine to soften it in favor of the Russian position, and Trump's well-known admiration for Putin suggest quid pro quo.  Numerous business ties between Trump and Russian oligarchs are also known.  

As mentioned here before, Paul Krugman joined Jonathan Chiat and other journalists of repute in suggesting that there is enough known to warrant serious investigation.  But the most detailed and damning articles I've seen are by Franklin Foer at Slate.  The shortest piece, that sums up the situation before today, notes that "Trump has a long history of sucking up to Russian political leaders to advance his business interests in that country. His praise of Putin has correlated with large infusions of Russian cash into his real estate projects. Furthermore, his campaign is staffed by aides with financial ties to the Russian state."

Foer also notes some of his reporting on Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort: "Manafort didn’t just represent oligarchs tight with the Kremlin. He became business partners with them. He ran a private equity fund in which the aluminum magnate (and Putin pal) Oleg Deripaska invested millions. As the Washington Post has shown, this fund didn’t exactly do much investing. In fact, Manafort struggled to account for the cash he received. And rather than pay back Deripaska, he apparently went underground."

Foer's detailed pieces on Manafort and his "consulting, and especially on Trump as the perfect Siberian Candidate are, in a brutalizing campaign, even more shocking.  Trump may be working for the Russians; at the very least, with Russian oligarchs for their mutual enrichment.  And Putin really does seem to be working for the Trump campaign.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Anti-Trump

Update: Holy Crap, Tim Kaine just killed it in his first speech with Clinton, writes Michael Tomasky, in his piece entitled The Anti-Trump. Also this description of their first joint appearance, with tweets in response.

And as usual, Borowitz has the last word:"The involvement of a seemingly decent human being in the 2016 election campaign left American voters stunned and deeply bewildered on Saturday. In interviews across the country, voters expressed reactions ranging from shock to total incomprehension at the campaign d├ębut of a man who, at first blush, exhibits none of the outward characteristics of a sociopath or clinical narcissist."

Like many, I didn't recall a lot about Tim Kaine.  I'm embarrassed to admit that in some respects I even had him a bit confused with the current Virginia governor, who I don't much like.  But everything I've read about him today has me believing that he's an excellent choice for Clinton's vice-president.

It's been clear for a few days that he was going to be the choice, especially once Clinton said that her top priority was someone who could take on the job of President immediately, if necessary, and who had foreign policy experience. Apart from the sitting Senators that were considered earlier, only Kaine qualified in both respects.

 It's worth noting in this regard that Kaine was on the shortlist for Obama's vp in 2008, and his lack of foreign policy experience then was a factor against him.  It was after that he ran for the Senate and made sure he got on armed services and foreign affairs committees. That's something that Tom Perez and others mentioned should consider if they have national aspirations.  Perez (as I noted) would be a politically galvanizing choice, but Hillary probably judged him as not quite ready for the big chair in terms of experience.

In any case, Kaine is a good choice.  In most respects, he is the Anti-Trump: he is genial, self-effacing, compassionate, positive, respected for working across party lines, knowledgeable and free of scandal.  He is deeply experienced at governing, moving up from city council to governor of Virginia to the U.S. Senate.  He's never lost an election.

Politically he has a perfect score on women's issues from Planned Parenthood, and an F from the NRA.  He's got a pretty strong environmental record (though nobody mentioned was especially known for focusing on the Climate Crisis.)  He was the first major officeholder to back Barack Obama in 2008.

The Bernicrats seem to hold two things against him.  One is his support of trade agreements--reasonable people can differ on this, though I believe the effect of trade agreements on jobs is overdrawn, especially in comparison to other factors. (I know for example that the loss of Big Steel in Pittsburgh had little to do with it, and I was there.)

The second is his recent request that the differences between community banks and credit unions on the one hand, and big commercial banks on the other, be considered in banking regulations.  Some Bernicrats say this means he's for bank de-regulation, which is the kind of nonsense that may get donations for your organization but which is a destructive distortion.  (Maybe people in urban areas don't appreciate the roles of community banks and credit unions, but in small places we do.)

When Trump went all fear and hate, the opportunity that the Dems are likely to take is to go all hope and we're in this together.  Kaine is perfect for that.  Not only is he basically positive, even his negative campaigning includes the positive, as when he asked the Hillary crowd: Do you want a ‘You’re fired’ president or a ‘You’re hired’ president? Do you want a trash-talker president or a bridge-builder president?"

What's especially going to make Kaine an effective candidate (if the campaign plays these cards right) has more to do with the details of his story.  He grew up in the Midwest and succeeded as a liberal in a fairly conservative southern state.  As Governor, he managed the state through the Virginia Tech gun violence aftermath and became a strong advocate for gun control.

As a lawyer he represented death row prisoners and victims of housing discrimination.  Even Republicans admire him both for being bipartisan and for being true to his convictions.  He didn't waver or waffle, one said.

 His son is an infantry officer.  He attends a mostly black Catholic church (and sings in the gospel choir), and lived in an integrated neighborhood in Richmond.  He speaks Spanish, having learned it teaching in a Jesuit school in central America.

He's low-key and says he's boring.  But he plays the harmonica.  He carries one with him, loves to play with bluegrass bands.  Anybody who does that is not, to my mind, boring.  Even if he may not be that good.  (He says his wife says 'Hey, you ought to play anytime they ask you because as soon as you're not in elected office, they're not going to ask you anymore.' ")

Elizabeth Warren is still a superstar, and her appearances with and without Hillary will still electrify crowds.  Same with Cory Booker. Tom Perez is less known generally but still can be helpful with Latino voters.  And of course there's Bernie, Bill and the most popular politician in America at the moment: President Obama.

Kaine brings out the best parts of Hillary's biography and record, and balances against the worst.  I hope they are working overtime to get this across at the Dem convention next week.

For that's the opportunity here: like me, most people don't know much about Tim Kaine.  Everybody knows way too much about Hillary and Trump (or they think they do.)  The GOPers blew whatever opportunity they had to introduce Mike Pence as a real person.  The ball is now in the Dems court, and they better not drop it.

The Red-Faced Menace (continued)

Reaction to Trump and his acceptance speech continued on Friday, with striking strength and unanimity: this guy is truly dangerous.

Both the Washington Post and New York Times editorially warned of the disaster to the United States that a Trump presidency would be.  Other news organizations suggested the same, while some opinion sites were even stronger.

Individuals added insights, elaborations and unique expressions.  In his WAPost opinion piece called This is how fascism comes to Amerca, scholar Robert Kagan delineated the possible process that only begins with Trump's election.  "To understand how such movements take over a democracy, one only has to watch the Republican Party today. These movements play on all the fears, vanities, ambitions and insecurities that make up the human psyche."  If Trump succeeds in winning based on these, they will play out and entrench themselves.

Those GOPer pols who back him for political expediency will find themselves just as victimized as everyone else.  (JFK had a metaphor for this in his Inaugural: Those who try to ride the back of the tiger might wind up inside.) Kagan:

 "What these people do not or will not see is that, once in power, Trump will owe them and their party nothing. He will have ridden to power despite the party, catapulted into the White House by a mass following devoted only to him. By then that following will have grown dramatically. Today, less than 5 percent of eligible voters have voted for Trump. But if he wins the election, his legions will likely comprise a majority of the nation. Imagine the power he would wield then. In addition to all that comes from being the leader of a mass following, he would also have the immense powers of the American presidency at his command..."

Trump's election is unlikely to happen, but among those who insist that it could happen are Frank Rich at New York and John Cassidy at the New Yorker.

And another voice has been added to those wondering about Trump's ties to Putin and Russia--the estimable Paul Krugman, in his column The Siberian Candidate. Noting Trump's public infatuation with Putin (along with other rabid rightists), the involvement of his campaign manager in Putin-backed political campaigns, he wonders about the extent of Putin and Russian involvement in Trump's business empire, much of which is not known, partly because Trump refuses to release his tax returns. "We do know that he has substantial if murky involvement with wealthy Russians and Russian businesses. You might say that these are private actors, not the government — but in Mr. Putin’s crony-capitalist paradise, this is a meaningless distinction."

Krugman concludes: At some level, Mr. Trump’s motives shouldn’t matter. We should be horrified at the spectacle of a major-party candidate casually suggesting that he might abandon American allies — just as we should be horrified when that same candidate suggests that he might welsh on American financial obligations. But there’s something very strange and disturbing going on here, and it should not be ignored.

Of all the pieces published since Trump's speech that I've read, Timothy Egan's column Make America Hate Again in the New York Times is the most succinct and eloquent.  Evaluating the entire GOP convention he wrote: "For a campaign now devoted to “law and order,” the launch was mob rule: in spirit, in tone, in words. Long after we’ve forgotten Trump’s closing speech — that paean to self, that nightmare portrait of an America where the lights have gone out — we will remember the savagery just below the surface."

That savagery emerged in one pointed set of terms popular at the convention, described in the New York magazine blog piece called How 'Bitch' Became the Word of the Republican National Convention. 

Absorbing and evaluating all this is not pleasant, so as usual we turn to Borowitz at the New Yorker for his take:

Trump Succeeds in Delivering Speech No One Will Want to Plagiarize

According to his staff, Trump and his speechwriters had been working overtime during the week to create a tirade that was sufficiently bloated, unhinged, and terrifying to discourage potential plagiarists from reusing excerpts in the future.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Red-Faced Menace

The Hitler side of Trump won out over the appeaser in his acceptance speech, which should be taught in any self-respecting class on demagoguery.

The speech is built on the three pillars of demagoguery:

1. Assert (with lies) that everything is dangerously falling apart, and everyone else in authority is in on it.

2.  Assert that "I" am the only one who can fix it.

3.  I will fix it as the voice and the servant of the humble masses, who no one else is listening to or understands.

Jeff Greenfield: In this speech, we have finally seen the answer to the perplexing question of just what political philosophy Donald Trump embraces. It is Caesarism: belief in a leader of great strength who, by force of personality, imposes order on a land plagued by danger. If you want to know why Trump laid such emphasis on “law and order”—using Richard Nixon’s 1968 rhetoric in a country where violent crime is at a 40-year low—it is because nations fall under the sway of a Caesar only when they are engulfed by fear. And the subtext of this acceptance speech was: be afraid; be very afraid."

Caesar was about the kindest comparison.  Jonathan Alter and Bill Maher referenced Mussolini, as much for style. Other words used to described this approach include authoritarian, totalitarian, or more plainly, dictator.  There are nuances of difference in all these terms, but there's no nuance in Trump.

"This is the classic theme of an authoritarian seeking to manipulate the masses by raw emotion," wrote conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin.

What else can you say about someone who misidentifies the problems, then offers absolutely no solution but electing him, without any idea of what he will do to, for instance, end crime on the day he takes office, or create full employment?

I've been calling him Comrade Trump, partly as irony for the Red-baiting tradition of (among others) Trump's mentor, Roy Cohn; partly to emphasize Trump's ties to Putin and the resulting and disquieting possibility of Russian interests trumping American; partly to emphasize Trump's totalitarian tendencies. I suppose there's further irony in that there don't seem to be any functioning Communists even in Russia.

(Speaking of Russia, A  roundup of global reaction to the speech--not exactly laudatory-- included two tweets from former chess champ and dissident Russian political figure Gary Kasparov including: "I’ve heard this sort of speech a lot in the last 15 years and trust me, it doesn’t sound any better in Russian." Maybe that's why most official Russian response was positive.)

But it's Trump the dictator, with the racist message of a Hitler, that comes across most clearly in this speech.  It's all out there now.  

GOP pollster Frank Luntz is among those who think Trump's acceptance speech worked, and he'll get at least a temporary poll bounce.  Friday morning's talking heads will doubtless include others.  Andrew Sullivan thought so based on the leaked text, but changed his mind after seeing and hearing Trump's delivery.  Filmmaker Michael Moore believes Trump's message as expressed will resonate.

Even excluding consideration of the dark content and the accuracy, others felt it was a lost opportunity.  Both GOP and Dem vets thought so in this NYT piece that began: " It was Donald J. Trump’s best chance to escape his own caricature. He did not."

Doyle McManus at the LA Times agreed. "The general election Trump is no clearer, and no more disciplined in his thinking, than the Trump of the primaries was. What you saw then is what you’ll get – in both the general election campaign and in the White House, if Trump should win."

  It was long--the longest since Nixon in 1972--and at nearly 80 minutes went longer than prime time and perhaps a lot of attention spans (I'm surprised Trump managed to read a teleprompter for that long.)  How many viewers stayed tuned for the balloon drop?

Trump yelled the speech, getting redder in the face as he went on.  That plus his apocalyptic message may have been too much.  How many children will have nightmares?  Not to mention adults.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Trump Lies, More Lies and Plagiarism

The Washington Post begins a detailed fact-check of Trump's acceptance speech: The dark portrait of America that Donald J. Trump sketched in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention is a compendium of doomsday stats that fall apart upon close scrutiny. Numbers are taken out of context, data is manipulated, and sometimes the facts are wrong.

When facts are inconveniently positive — such as rising incomes and an unemployment rate under 5 percent — Trump simply declines to mention them. He describes an exceedingly violent nation, flooded with murders, when in reality, the violent-crime rate has been cut in half since the crack cocaine epidemic hit its peak in 1991.

In his speech, Trump promised to present “the plain facts that have been edited out of your nightly news and your morning newspaper.” But he relies on statistics that are ripe for manipulation, citing misleading numbers on the economy, for example, through selective use of years, data and sources.

And my own reading of an account of the speech yielded this significant "plagiarism," once again from an Obama:

Trump received a standing ovation when he declared: “An attack on law enforcement is an attack on all Americans”.  July 21.

"Any attack on police is an unjustified attack on all of us," Obama wrote, repeating what he told the nation Sunday after three police officers were fatally shot in Baton Rouge.  July 17 & July 19.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Comrade Trump's Preemptive Surrender to Russia

We know that Trump's ego is Yuge.  But now Trump is attempting to be Hitler and Neville Chamberlain at the same time.

Previewing his acceptance speech, Trump gave an interview to the New York Times in which he refused to say that the United States would honor its NATO commitments in a specific instance, involving Russia, invoking the Comrade Trump Doctrine:

For example, asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are the most recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

The answer is nonsense at best, and preemptive surrender in effect. Bad enough he's destroyed the mutual defense pact and by inference every important treaty to which the honor of the nation is pledged.  But his pal Putin must be in orgasm.  Perhaps as he's pulling the strings.

But of course, the word of the world's superpower and the country he is aspires to lead, as well as world peace and the freedom of the western world is secondary to the Trump Ego:

When asked what he hoped people would take away from the convention, Mr. Trump said, “The fact that I’m very well liked.”

Has anyone told the Manchurian Candidate that the office he's running for is President of the United States, Leader of the Free World, Holder of the Nuclear Codes, and not Prom King?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

For What It's Worth: Nominating Comrade Trump

Apparently somebody in the process of nominating Trump quoted the first two lines of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth."  Even more surprisingly, he attributed it to Buffalo Springfield.  But still.  Wow.

There's something happening here and what it is may be all too clear.  The Cleveland Festival of Fear and Hate finished its second theme day; the first day was Fear, Tuesday was Hate.

It's not getting particularly good ratings, though.  Speaking of ratings, apparently the House of Ailes is falling over at Faux News.  Richard Wolffe in a piece called Roger Ailes built the Republican party – now both are crumbling in plain sight
 : "Ailes has lost control of the empire he built at the same moment he lost control of the party he in effect controlled."

As epic as that might be, the story of the day you really couldn't make up: In her speech at the RNC on Monday night, the wife of the nominee--he's the guy who demonizes President Obama at every turn--was caught plagiarizing an entire sequence from Michelle Obama's speech about her husband at the DNC convention in 2008 that nominated him.

The major media highlighted the robbery with side by side transcript quotes, audio and video mashups, while quaintly referring to "apparent" plagiarism.  What was especially interesting for a party and especially this group of people, who had so far shown a complete disdain for the concept of a "fact," is that they were faced with evidence in sight and sound that anybody could understand, and no one could contradict.  And yet, they did.  Or tried to.

Among the speakers on Tuesday was Chris Christie, who decided to organize the festival's favorite chant "lock her up" into a prosecutorial speech with the audience as lynch mob jury.  Not exactly reassuring in a potential Attorney General.  But I don't take that AG talk seriously.  I have to believe that the only way Trump is keeping Christie on board is that he's promised him a spot in the White House itself, where the power is, as chief of staff or some high position--so that when Trump gets bored with the job, as he will on Day Two,  Christie can wield the power.

Big Brother is watching you, and you're unbelievable.
Meanwhile the evidence of connections between Putin and Trump continues to build, including the role that Trump's current campaign manager (Paul Manafort) played in Russian politics, serving Putin.

These ties suggest more than a metaphorical relationship to authoritarian rule.  They suggest a dictatorial Trump in league with dictator Putin.  The GOP just nominated the Manchurian Candidate, Comrade Trump.

These ties suggested something specific to one of Andrew Sullivan's readers on his liveblog of the festival:

"Every time I hear “lock her up” at the convention, I just cringe.  When I think about Paul Manafort’s effort to help elect the pro-Putin Viktor Yanukovych in 2010, and they yelled “lock her up” in Ukraine, that’s exactly what they did. On trumped up political charges (ironically because she accepted, under duress, an unfair natural gas deal), Yanukovych threw former prime minister and his 2010 opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, in prison."

But temporarily free Hillary Clinton is set to announce her v.p. choice this weekend.  Signals coming out of her camp are all but announcing that it's going to be Tim Kaine.  Hillary told Charlie Rose her first priority is someone with the experience to take over as Pres, and she stressed to others that she's looking for foreign policy experience.  The only person on the leaked short list that fits this description is Kaine, who served on the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee.

Counter Programming

Tired of the Cleveland Festival of Fear and Hate?  Try this on for size.  (You'll want to go full screen for this one.)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Trumpence, Conventions and the Rolling Stones

To the strains of the Rolling Stones "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (and no, I'm not making this up), Donald Trump introduced his vice-presidential running mate, sort of.

In the small scale Saturday event in a New York City hotel, Trump talked for more than 20 minutes about himself, his victories, Hillary etc. before glancing down at the paper he was carrying and saying "back to Mike Pence."  After a few words more Pence came out, they shook hands, Trump left.  Pence talked about himself for 12 minutes.  Then he left for a hastily scheduled and not well attended welcome home rally in Indianapolis.

At least the event changed the subject, from reporting and speculation on Trump's reluctant choice (his first choice of Christie, some said, was vetoed by his daughter, whose father-in-law Christie as a prosecutor had sent to prison.  So, family values) to the most awkward, least organized introduction of a vp candidate anyone could remember.

The only folks happy with the choice apparently are the GOPer establishment, maybe in exchange for helping to quell the anti-Trump rebellion at the convention. Pence is unpopular in his home state, unlikely to have won reelection as governor, unknown nationally and otherwise a divisive figure.  And for the t.p. rabid right, I think Andrew Rosenthal chose the right word in the New Yorker, in his piece titled "Will Mike Pence Satisfy the Insatiable Right?"  Insatiable is the word.  So basically Pence doesn't help and doesn't matter.

Now coverage of the back-to-back conventions begins.  The first impression of the programs (Dems released theirs Saturday) is that the GOPer is mostly negative (Benghazi Night?  Now there's a prom theme) and the Dem's is all positive, thematically anyway. (GOP eventually released their positive themes.)  And the etiquette questions are different.  For instance, at the GOP it's "where can I bring my big guns?"

It's not really that funny, as the NY Times indicated: Police officials are promising there will be no untoward episodes as conventioneers confirm Donald Trump as their presidential nominee. But this seems small comfort in the aftermath of the carnage in Dallas last week caused by a deranged, and reportedly legally armed, rifleman who shot and killed five policemen during a demonstration organized to protest earlier shootings by the police in Falcon Heights, Minn., and Baton Rouge, La.

In the panicking crowds that night in Dallas were 20 to 30 armed individuals legally carrying rifles as self-appointed vigilantes who had vowed to somehow protect the demonstrators. Their presence — some were dressed in macho camouflage gear — greatly confused the police when the sniper started firing and protesters ran for cover. “We don’t know who the ‘good guy’ versus who the ‘bad guy’ is,” the Dallas police chief, David Brown, said.

But beyond such serious dangers, the electoral danger appears to be the current media overkill on how bad the GOP convention is likely to be (to which I gleefully contributed.)  With these expectations for an obvious clown show, anything less will be touted as a surprising success.  For one thing, it's very likely that the GOP convention will get high TV ratings (especially for all the Trumps), as it is the biggest reality show ever.

But with some polls tightening (mostly taken at the FBI moment) the question will be asked: if professional politicos and the media are so unanimous that Trump is doing everything wrong, what does it say about them or this election if on August 1 he is neck-and-neck or leading?

Things are aligning for Clinton to be pretty far ahead then.  Even if Trump's convention isn't a disaster, her convention comes immediately afterwards and it's the last one.  His post-c bump should be obliterated before it starts, while hers can build and linger.

But what if that doesn't happen?  What do the pros say, what does the media do?

Regardless, there is still one compelling argument, and Adam Gopnik makes it:

Hillary Clinton is an ordinary liberal politician. She has her faults, easily described, often documented—though, for the most part, the worst accusations against her have turned out to be fiction. No reasonable person, no matter how opposed to her politics, can believe for a second that Clinton’s accession to power would be a threat to the Constitution or the continuation of American democracy. No reasonable person can believe that Trump’s accession to power would not be.

"No reasonable person" is unfortunately the weak link.  Trump seeks to stir up unreasoning anger.  The rabid right will continue to do so, aided by their underground of Biblical prophets--and they're available to you on YouTube--who tell their followers that God tells them electing a woman President will mean that the United States will be a smoking ruin within months.

Reasonable people however may at worst have to suppress their Hillary distaste and realize that you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need.